Rivian is an electric car manufacturer that has borrowed a thing-or-two from lean thinking, just ask CEO RJ Scaringe and Jim Morgan, who was Rivian’s COO at the time of recording. LEI President Josh Howell did just that in this look back at the “Designing the Future” episode of the WLEI Podcast, where these innovative leaders share the stories of inspiration and motivation that got them on the road to success. Find a lightly edited transcript below.
You can listen to the full podcast here.
Josh Howell: For you personally, what are some of the leadership lessons that you’ve accumulated over the years? The fact that you’re this open learner and cherishing somebody like Jim who is similar. You’re amenable to that. It would be interesting for us to hear a little bit about some of the key learnings for you that you’ve accumulated in the last ten years.
RJ Scaringe: Yeah. There’s not a day that goes by that something new doesn’t emerge in something to learn from. I think Jim probably taught me three things yesterday, and two of them were after 9:00 at night. Jokes aside, building and scaling a business like this is incredibly humbling because there’s simply so much that you don’t know and because of the nature of how the company has been built. There are so many mistakes that are necessary as part of the growth process. Key for us, the reason we’re sitting here today, is the ability to recognize where things aren’t right and the ability to adjust. If the way that I originally envisioned the business or the way that I originally sold the business is we’re looking for partners, investors, was the same today as it was nine, ten years ago, we wouldn’t be sitting here. I say to my wife all the time, one of the most important things I think for me is to remain idealistic, which means to remain curious. It’s actually one of our core behaviors of the business is to stay curious, and implicit with staying curious is also learning; continuing to observe all those things that you know you can do better yourself.
For me, I would say one of the biggest learnings and ironically, if you asked me a long time ago what I thought was the most important thing for the business, I would have said it’s about people; making sure you understand the strength. Jim has said to me a few times: the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. Really understand that it’s the strength of the team and the way that the team works together and the combination of skill sets necessary for team to be successful. I would have spoken to that nine years ago, but not a day goes by where I don’t realize that even more so.
Jim has said to me a few times: the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.RJ Scaringe, Rivian CEO
If I could go back and give myself advice, I would have repeated that and said, “Hey, really, it’s about the team.” It’s so easy to say. I ask ten founders what’s the most important thing. They would likely say it’s the team, but really believing that and then really driving action from that in how you recruit, how you promote, how you provide feedback. When you have to make hard decisions, meaning when you have the wrong types of people in positions within the company, removing those people. How you go about removing those people. These are all things, each one of those embodies many, many learnings for myself and, of course, with that, many mistakes, I’m sure, that in hindsight I would have approached differently. It’s the acknowledgment of how to do those things differently, then it forms the future actions.
Jim: I think for me there are so many things. First of all, technically, I’ve learned a ton from RJ in terms of the proposed system that we have. All this stuff has been very unique to me. Our battery systems. It has been an incredible education from a guy who comes from the internal combustion world, and I’ve just learned a ton. I think the thing that stands out for me most, in terms of what I’ve learned from RJ, is his ability to think six steps ahead.
I think the thing that stands out for me most, in terms of what I’ve learned from RJ, is his ability to think six steps ahead.Jim Morgan, Rivian COO
I think that’s what helps make him such a successful entrepreneur. It’s what helps him be an effective leader, and I find myself always playing catch up with RJ, like he’s already there and what goes beyond that. Expanding the way I think strategically to think multiple steps ahead. We talked earlier about the second life work that RJ has been doing with Alex Honnold Foundation, but we could go on and on in terms of thinking through our distribution service, whatever, models as we think through the business. I think that’s where I’ve learned a ton from RJ